Cherry Cream Cheese Muffins

For the first time in my life, I'm living alone. I've moved to a city I know well, but it's been long enough since I've dwelled here that I am surrounded by strangers. Moving is about starting over, starting fresh, making new friends, and seeking out new experiences. It's building a new chapter in the book of life. Right now I'm in the "making new friends" stage and it feels harder to do now then when I was younger (of course, it doesn't help that I'm working two jobs and taking 10 graduate credits over the summer). While I have mixed feelings about living alone, I keep reminding myself that living alone isn't the same thing as being alone.

They are, in fact, two very different circumstances.

Living alone means sticking a spoon directly into the jar of peanut butter and double dipping to my heart's content. Living alone means watching an entire season of Big Love in a single day without having a soul to judge me for it. Living alone means forgoing pants when the temperatures rise without worrying about public indecency. Living alone means letting the dishes pile up in the sink until I decide I can't handle the mess. Living alone means doing impromptu dances to my favoritesongs while baking and getting brownie batter all over the kitchen floor.

Living alone means creating a sanctuary for myself where I only need to answer for myself, a sanctuary I can then share with those I care most about.

Some days I do get plagued by loneliness, an inevitable factor in life whether you live alone or with others. It's hard moving somewhere new without having that network of love and support in the next room or halfway across town. That network still exists, but it's farther away than it was before. To temper the occasional lonely feelings, I treat myself to date nights; I'll buy myself a new red wine, cook myself a three course dinner, and dine by candlelight with a favorite television show sitting across the table. I'll escape into books, making lifelong friends with the characters buried in the pages. I roller blade through the neighborhood, finding a good dose of fresh air to cure most of life's ails.

Yes, being alone and living alone are two very different situations. Living alone means I can bake muffins at an obscenely early hour on a Saturday morning, banging about the pots and pans without apology. Oh, how I do like to bang around those pots and pans.

Cherry Cream Cheese Muffins are soft, sweet, and tangy. Fresh cherries are pitted, halved, and mixed into a whole wheat oatmeal muffin batter. Before heading into the oven, the muffin tops are swirled with cream cheese and sprinkled with sugar. The muffins are utterly light, with a crumb so small and so moist that they melt in your mouth. The recipe is vegan, but you can easily use non-vegan ingredients if they are already in your pantry. With a cup of tea or a mug of coffee, these muffins will brighten any morning.

One Year Ago: Tropical Vacation Cocktail
Two Years Ago: Twix Cookies

Cherry Cream Cheese Muffins

Yields 12-14 muffins

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 rolled or old fashioned oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened almond or soy milk (regular milk will work for non-vegans)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon white vinegar (or lemon juice)
1/2 cup fresh cherries, halved and pitted
1-2 ounces vegan cream cheese (regular cream cheese will work for non-vegans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a muffin tin with baking cups.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the milk, oil, vanilla extract, and vinegar until smooth. Fold in the fresh cherries.

Divide batter evenly between baking cups, filling about 3/4 full. If using vegan cream cheese, dollop a small spoonful on top of each muffin and swirl. If using regular cream cheese, cut into small cubes and place 3 cubes on top of each muffin. Sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temperature. The muffins don't keep very long because they are so moist so aim to consume them within two to three days.